On one point the defenders of “Christmas” against “the Holidays” have a clear advantage: they have much better music. Having spent part of today in LaGuardia, O’Hare, and LAX, I was subjected to the incessant drone of non-sectarian “holiday” music, and was reminded of the basic fact about it: it’s unspeakably lousy.
Genuine Christmas music, by contrast, is pretty great: compare Good King Wenceslaus, The Holly and the Ivy, Adeste Fideles, Angels We have Heard on High, and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen with Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman, I’ll be Home for Christmas, and (shudder) The Jingle Bell Rock. (Somehow neither Bach nor Handel ever made in onto the radio playlist.)
The line between good and bad doesn’t quite track the line between secular and religious; some of the old Yule glees (the Gower Wassail is my favorite) are terrific, while The Little Drummer Boy (which I’ve somehow been spared so far this season) is about as bad as they come.
Still, on balance I’d rather have my Jewish sensibilities a little bit offended than my musical taste grossly insulted. Tom Lehrer may have been right to say that the problem with folk music is that it is written by the people, who by and large lack talent, but at least in this instance they’re way, way better than the pros.
Update Andy Sabl comments, and I reply.